Friday, November 6, 2009

13.1 Miles: A Recap

So I finally got some race experience under my belt and entered - and actually finished - the 2009 Baltimore Running Festival Half-Marathon. It took under 3hrs for me to cross the finish line and about another 40minutes before I could feel my legs properly. Overall, it was absolutely worth it - even the f*cking ridiculous number of hills peppering the trail, which are detailed in the route elevation chart below:

The first wave of the race started around 9:45am. As I was running in the last wave of participants, I hit the trail a little after 10am. Right around the same time it started to rain. Seriously. And thus began one of the longer 3-hr segments of my 31 years. Here's a quick recap of some of the trail highlights:

Miles 2-3: I bid farewell to my running partner, Monica, who is charging up the many hills while I am content to walk a fast pace and pick up speed at the bottom. Mile 3 is also the first water stop, marked by a band that is playing on a stage set up to the side of the road. Spectators graciously offer free high-fives to runners as they pass. This is also the point where the route for runners completing the full marathon merges with the half-marathon route.

Miles 5-6: I notice the first costumed participant - a dude dressed as a can of Miller Lite - running as part of a relay team. This is the first water stop in the route that also has PowerGel available to runners. I take one and quickly realize that eating while running is not a good combination for me. Considerable willpower goes into not being sick on the trail in front of race spectators. I later repeat this lesson around Mile 10 when I try to ingest a Gummi Bear offered by a cheerful race supporter.

Miles 7-8: The path takes us aside and follows the outline of the picturesque Lake Montebello. Jason, Monica's husband who is clobbering my pace, apparently sees me while entering the park while he's exiting. Not that I notice anything outside of my breathing pattern. And the photographers who seem to be setting up around the lake to take photos of runners for later purchase. I try to smile while maintaining a decent running form when I see them. This plan does not even remotely work (as I look competely WORKED in the shots) and, consequently, I do not purchase said photos and hope they never see the light of day.

Mile 9: The race route takes us through the neighborhood surrounding the Hopkins Homewood campus. Residents come out of the woodwork to support the runners. On one block I see a gentlemen encouraging the athletes by blasting "Eye of the Tiger" from his SUV's sound system. Bonus: Man is actually dressed as tiger while standing on his vehicle's rooftop. I also receive additional, just-for-me cheers from a now 17-year-old Justin Knight (who received help from LLS after he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at age 6) and his mom.

Their cheers inspire me to pick up my pace. My right leg/knee/ankle, while appreciating the sentiment, wants no part of this increased running speed and makes its displeasure known in no uncertain terms.

Miles 10 -11: I can see the Howard Street Bridge, the last of the friggin' hills on the race trail. As I am about to slow down to a walk a Team in Training coach from another chapter pops out of nowhere and runs alongside me, checking in on how I'm feeling and - this is where my heart sinks a good bit - to help me run up this last hill. I am near tears at the very idea but somehow make it up the incline without falling over. It's a downhill (or at least an even level) run from here.

Miles 12 - 13: I get a morale boost at the last water stop, which is sponsored by Team in Training and LLS. Thank god, because I am feeling all sorts of beat up by the previous 12 miles. The end of the route is attended by more spectators. A lot more. While some are encouraging (which is always nice to hear when you've realized that 13.1 miles is WAY longer than you ever imagined possible), others quickly work my nerves. Like the fat guy in the Rascal telling me to finish big or the group with lit cigarettes in hand telling us to run not walk to the finish line. God help me it's all I can do not to veer off track and kick them with what little stamina I have left.

Mile 13.1: I manage to smile and raise my arms up triumphantly for the last photographer, who's perched on a cherry picker above the race path. (It ends up being my one decent picture.) The last 10th of a mile goes through Camden Yards and ends up at M&T Bank Stadium. I've never been so happy to see a finish line in my LIFE. I cross just behind a fellow finishing the full marathon who's wearing a Ben Roethlisberger jersey, which is double-ballsy given the amount of heckling I'm sure he received over the past 26.2 miles. I manage to run across the finish line and receive my runner's medal. I catch up with Tony, Monica, Jason, and Dexter (Monica & Jason's dog) and we walk back to Federal Hill to pick up our car and head home.

P.S. I finally take that ice bath as soon as we return to the house.

So that's my first endurance event in a nutshell. It was by far one of the hardest things I've completed and it still haunts me to think that not only do I get to do this again, but I need to do it twice in a row. At least Walt Disney World, from what I understand, is a flat trail. And besides, I've run several miles past that 13.1mi distance since then and managed to survive.

Still, it's kind of thrilling to look at my little crab-shaped medal and know that I've done something not many have done before. And I'm helping out others at the same time. As of today, I've reached my minimum fund raising goal (woo hoo!!) and I still have another 6 weeks before the TnT deadline to bring in the remaining funds.

61 days until the big run. Keep wishing me luck - I'm still going to need it...

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